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'Sickening Realities'


"One of the most sickening realities teachers face is when they hear of the awful things their little darlings do to each other while we sit thinking they are wholly engrossed in the school-world we create for them."

That was a recent post by a teacher who writes a blog called From the Trenches. She goes on to tell a story about two boys harassing and bullying a girl during a field trip. It's a troubling tale, and a reminder to educators that what happens outside the realm of academics could have particularly damaging effects on student motivation.

The teacher's story sparked memories of my own school days, especially those days when I had just moved to a new school and was destined to be tested by the local bully. As a new kid in high school, I was in a French class in which a boy (who often came to class high on marijuana) would sit behind other boys and smack them in the back of the head. For the first month of the semester, I had an A in the class, but felt very uncomfortable going there because I knew what I would do if he smacked me in the back of the head. I would do what I had done at other schools when I was the new guy on the block -- I would turn around and punch him and probably get suspended.

To avoid that scenario, I started skipping French class and going to the library instead. I even skipped class one day when we had a test. I got a zero and my grade dropped to a C. The teacher was concerned, but I never told her why I was skipping classes.

There was never a fight and I eventually returned to the class. But I sat through every class worrying if he was going to smack me and how my parents would react if I fought back and was suspended. I did not do very well in the class.


Sickening Realities really hit home for me . Yesterday, I learned a member of my church has a son who has gone from A's & B's to D's since being harassed by an upperclassman to the point of being beaten up after school. The school and the local police have soft pedaled this situation because the aggressor's father has connections. The mother of the harassed boy has decided to transfer her son to a school out of state. Sad situation to say the least.

Kevin Bushweller's story of skipping French class to avoid a bully and consequently missing a test and receiving a zero raises so many inter-related issues of motivation and schooling.
It's clear from the assessment literature that a zero should not be awarded when a student does not attempt a test. It makes no sense to say, in effect, that Kevin knew nothing of the French Language that was being tested that day; that's what a zero represents. To then use that zero in a composite average, as if the most accurate measure of his achievement is an average of very high marks and NOTHING boggles the mind.
Effective teachers try many different ways to get accurate indicators of achievement and someone trained in assessment is more likely to cultivate motivated students with learning goals. This teacher of French appears to have been working from a very flawed assumption - if a student misses a test, he must be "unmotivated." Granted, that zero will teach students like Kevin a lesson. Unfortunately, the only certain lesson learned from invlaid measures of learning is that the teacher doesn't know the full story.

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